Public health

Clatsop County has worked to trace people exposed to the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been unlike anything Clatsop County Public Health Department staff has ever experienced.

The existential threat that the coronavirus imposes on our community is exacerbated by the palpable economic devastation that controlling the spread of the virus wreaks on our community.

Public health staff are fully aware of this dilemma and have family and friends who are suffering economically. Public health has been in the lead position on figuring out the safest way to reopen the economy without creating more COVID-19 illnesses. Our phased approach to reopening the economy of Clatsop County is our best effort at striking that balance.

One of the most important objectives for the reopening of the economy is to mitigate and control the spread of the virus to the degree possible.

Public health employs two tools to accomplish this difficult objective: community testing and contact tracing of positive cases.

Testing for the virus is a fairly routine process. Public health has established a weekly drive-thru testing program at the new household hazardous waste facility. We have successfully tested over 200 people at this time.

Contact tracing is another matter entirely.

Effective contact tracing requires two things from the positive case — a good memory and honesty. Current federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that anyone who has been within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or longer should be contacted and monitored for symptoms.

I don’t know about you, but recalling everyone I have contact with for 15 minutes over a 14-day time frame would be difficult. On top of that, being honest about the numbers of people you have had contact with and under what circumstances can also be difficult and perhaps embarrassing.

In many cases, patients report that social distancing was not followed and mass gatherings have occurred even after the patient was notified of their positive test status. This is not just a local trend.

The Public Health Department is dedicated to improving the health of all community members and has well-established programming that specifically serves at-risk and underrepresented community members.

Our mission is to provide information and services to residents that are relevant and timely to assure the community’s health. We are dedicated to protecting individuals and communities against the spread of disease, promoting and encouraging healthy behaviors, responding to pandemics and assisting communities in recovery and assuring the quality and accessibility of health services.

These values are driven by a health equity lens, meaning that we believe everyone has the opportunity and right to attain their highest level of health. Our commitment to health equity has been clearly reflected in our COVID-19 pandemic response through our housing partnership with Clatsop Community Action, our educational social media campaign and our community testing program.

In closing, Clatsop County has a health department staff that is driven by a passion to serve and to help improve the health of our entire community. We are appreciative of our community’s support and I can assure you we are working very hard to help the county get through this pandemic.

Michael McNickle is the director of the Clatsop County Public Health Department.

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